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Griffin to Go: A Tale of Two Beet Salads

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The roasted beet salad at Il Sogno is part of the antipasti offerings.

Family legend has it that my first bite of real food was a beet. I was about 6 months old at the time, and I've been in love with beets ever since. You can imagine my delight then to find fresh beet salads on two menus in town on two consecutive nights. I had to have both. And I'm glad I did. The first was at Il Sogno at the Pearl Brewery, Andrew Weissman's attempt to bring Italian food to a new level in San Antonio. He certainly succeeds in my book with his array of antipasti dishes, whether it's a seafood salad with calamari, clams and shrimp or a tapenade made with olives and garlic. One of my favorites has been the roasted beet salad, in which chunks of the bright red vegetable are tossed with goat cheese and toasted pistachios, creamy and crunchy elements that add rich flavors as well as texture. The end result had our forks reaching for more and more until the plate was empty all too quickly. When I was growing up, Mom never roasted beets in the oven. Her preferred method of cooking them was to boil the beets shortly after she picked them from our backyard garden. Once they were tender enough to eat and peeled, you simply topped them with plenty of butter and salt. Nobody ever cared about the almost purple red juice that painted the rest of the food on the plate. Those beets upstaged the beef, the bread, the salad and anything else Mom might have served. At the new Godai Sushi & Bistro, 4553 N. Loop 1604 W., the roasted beets are presented without butter but with duck fat in the dressing. And I guess I'll just have to accept that fat substitution. It will be hard for me; maybe I should attempt to drown tradition in three or four helpings. The salad features both red and gold beets, roasted to achieve perfect color, and arrives tossed with bit of goat cheese. That may sound familiar, but this is point where any similarity between this version and Weissman's at Il Sogno ends.

Roasted red and gold beets are featured in the salad at Godai Sushi & Bistro.

Owner William "Goro" Pitchford and executive chef Chris Kidd add nuts, but in this case they are salty Marcona almonds and they are accompanied by golden raisins and caramelized onions. A honey-duck fat dressing finishes off the plate in manner that fills your mouth with what can best be described as an umami savoriness. (Umami is known as the fifth taste, and it usually signifies the richness certain dishes have that fills the entire mouth, a depth of flavor caused by glutamate, a naturally occurring substance in many foods. For more on umami, click here. Godai Sushi Bistro has an Umami section on its menu.) All of the elements work like an orchestra performing under a master conductor. Yet the beets remain the star of the plate, their somewhat sweet flavor commanding your attention. I couldn't stop there, though. For my main course, I ordered the Buddha Cassoulet, a medley of roasted fresh vegetables tossed with edamame instead of the usual white beans. There were plenty of beets in this dish, too, making my taste buds extremely happy. Another beet salad with checking out is the version often offered at Dough Pizzzeria Napoletana, 6989 Blanco Road. No duck fat here, just bacon. Just perfection in its way as the others are in theirs. So, if you're a beet fanatic in need of a fix, check out any of these salads. Just leave me a small taste.
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